Parshas Ha’azinu; It’s not Purely Academic! There are two brachos which we say that are from the Torah; the rest are all of Rabbinic origin.

These two are birkas hamazon (‘bentching’) and birkas hatorah - printed in the siddurim just before shacharis.

The after blessing over the seven species of Eretz Yisrael (shivat haminim) is subject to a dispute as to whether it is Biblical or Rabbinic,[1] and though the priestly blessing is certainly biblical, what we mean by this is their words yevarechecha HaShem…, and not the introductory blessing of baruch ata HaShem…, which is of Rabbinic origin if I am not mistaken. The gemarra[2] cites the pasuk from our sedra (32;3) ‘when I call out the name of HaShem, give greatness to our G-D’ as the source for birkas hatorah. Rashi on that gemarra explains this limud; Moshe is referring to a bracha in ‘calling out the name of HaShem,’ and ‘giving greatness to our G-D’ is the learning of Torah that follows. Either way, it seems clear that birkas hatorah is of Torah origin. However, the problem is that the Rambam in his listing of all the 613 Torah mitzvos omits any mention of a mitzvah of birkas hatorah? The Ramban[3] challenges the Rambam on this omission, and the Sefer HaChinuch, who writes in his introduction that he normally sides with the Rambam’s listing, agrees with the Ramban on this issue and therefore concludes that birkas hatorah is indeed of Torah, as opposed to rabbinic, origin.[4] What is the understanding of the Rambam; why did he miss out birkas hatorah from his list? There are two different ways that people explain the Rambam. The first is by saying that the Rambam actually holds that birkas hatorah is Rabbinic and not Biblical in its origin. This is why he omits it from his list of biblical mitzvos, and indeed seems implicit from the fact that the Rambam puts the halachos of birkas hatorah in perek 7 of hilchos tefillah; a perek which he says (in halacha 1 of that perek) is devoted to Rabbinic brachos. So how does the Rambam understand the aforementioned gemarra brachos? He understands the gemarra brachos’s citation of the pasuk as being what we call an asmachta; ie not a full Biblical source for this halacha, but a Rabbinic law which the gemarra finds some hint to [and way to remember] in the Torah. The other potential problem with this approach is that the gemarra[5] says that the reason we were exiled from the Land in the times of the destruction of the first Temple is because the people did not recite birkas hatorah. Why such a severe punishment if it is not a Biblical mitzvah?[6] This question is answered indirectly by the Rambam himself, for he explains[7] that when the gemarra says ‘they did not recite birkas hatorah’ it means that they treated the Torah lightly and disrespectfully.[8] The second approach is the one that we shall focus on; not because we necessarily think that it is a more accurate answer, but because it brings out a true concept regardless of whether it is the correct solution for the Rambam. This second approach[9] is that the Rambam does hold that birkas hatorah is biblical in origin, but the reason that he does not include it as a separate mitzvah in his list because he holds that birkas hatorah is part of the mitzvah of talmud torah. This would mean that the mitzvah of talmud torah takes on a wider meaning - and includes appreciating the Torah too, hence the inclusion of birkas hatorah as a part of it. And in truth, the Rambam does include[10] both learning and teaching within the mitzvah of talmud torah, so saying that appreciation of Torah (via birkas hatorah) is included too is not such a stretch. Indeed, we find a precedent for this: The Rambam includes as part of the mitzvah to love HaShem[11], the need to foster love of HaShem in others, for as he explains, the natural next stage of loving and appreciating anything/anyone is to sing their praises to others and make others love that thing too. According to this second approach, the mitzvah of Talmud torah would be similar in this respect; it would entail appreciating Torah and teaching it to others as a consequence. It is from this second approach that we are going to build our theme. As we mentioned briefly, the inclusion of birkas hatorah as part of the mitzvah of Talmud torah reveals to us something very interesting about Talmud torah. It shows us that Talmud torah is not only learning torah, but part of the mitzvah of Talmud torah is gaining an appreciation for Torah and its Source. Making the blessing over the Torah is a way of conveying this appreciation. The Rambam himself writes[12] that the way to come to love of HaShem is to look into his Torah. Furthermore, a similar point is raised by the Sefer Hachinuch[13]. He asks why is it that we bentch after we eat, but say birkas hatorah before we learn Torah? He goes on to answer that food is physical, and as part of our physical makeup we cannot fully appreciate anything physical until after we have come into contact with it and it has given us some pleasure; hence this blessing being after food. Torah, however, is non-physical, and our spiritual makeup/senses can grasp an appreciation for it before we have got any pleasure from sitting down and learning it yet; hence the blessing being before Torah. The point which is similar here is the coupling of birkas hatorah with an appreciation for Torah, which, as we explained above, is a part of learning torah. This is not the only part of learning torah that we might not always be aware of. The rishon Rabbeinu Avraham Min Hahar writes[14] that though one does not consciously intend for the psychological benefit when one performs a mitzvah, Talmud torah is different. He writes: ‘in the mitzvah of learning (Torah), which is tziur halev and knowing the truth, the whole essence of commandment is to grasp the truth and be happy and enjoy/benefit from this knowledge to make happy your heart and mind…The main mitzvah is the benefit and enjoyment from that which you have grasped and understood from your learning.’ Here we see another part of Talmud torah; a genuine simcha and enjoyment from the results of the learning. We have therefore found at least two concepts which go together with learning torah; appreciation of Torah and its Source, and the simcha and enjoyment of the learning, and there could be more. Obviously, this does not mean that if one does not have these [two] qualities then one should not learn, just like one who cannot have all the proper kavanos and concentration should still daven. The central theme here is that learning Torah is not academia, and that is why the mitzvah involves components which call for more than just absorbing information. It is not the same as learning maths, science, history, or any other discipline or subject. Learning Torah may be intellectually stimulating and intellectually fulfilling, but its goal is to improve us and bring us closer to HaShem and His Plan.

This is why there are so many great stories about kind deeds of Rabbis over the ages, even though they spent most of their time learning Torah - because the learning of Torah, not only the absorbing of the information therein, uplifted their characters and became part of them, so to speak. After all, studying Torah means studying the blueprint of the world. As the midrash puts it, a King married off his daughter and told his new son-in-law to make a room for him wherever they live so that I can be with my daughter whenever I want. The King here is HaShem and the daughter is His Torah;

when we learn Torah we are making room for the ‘Father-in-law’ (HaShem) too, because we cannot be separated from the Torah that we married. HaShem should help us that we should be able to learn, absorb, and appreciate His Torah. Have a great Shabbes,

[1] See sefer hachinuch mitzvah 430

[2] Brachos 21a [

3] Shichechas Asei 15 at the end of the mitzvas asei section of the sefer hamitzvos [

4] Sefer HaChinuch mitzvah 430

[5] Nedarim 81a

[6] This question is brought by the Sha’ages Aryeh Siman 24

[7] Shut Rambam 135

[8] He explains that the gemarra is referring to the aliyos they gave to people in leining and how sages did not want to make the effort to go up to the bimah to be called to the Torah, and the resulting shaming of the Torah that ensued.

[9] This is the approach of the mabit in kiryat sefer, and apparently the mishkenos Yaakov and the aruch hashulchan too.

[10] Sefer hamitzvos positive mitzvah 11

[11] Sefer hamitzvos positive mitzvah 3

[12] Sefer hamitzvos positive mitzvah 3

[13] Again, in mitzvah 430

[14] Nedarim 48a. It’s worth reading for yourself.

And the ‘har’ is Montpellier by the way.

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